Allen Jackson - How To Flourish In Chaos - Part 1
Hey, it's a privilege to be with you today. Our topic is God's provision and how we can flourish in the midst of chaos. I know you know this, but we're living in a rapidly changing world. In fact, I think we're living in a rapidly deteriorating world. Here's the good news: In the midst of that, because Almighty God watches over us, we can flourish. We can flourish in spite of the US economic trends or the dollar or politicians, because God is the one who watches over us and keeps us. The good news is we don't have to live in fear. Grab your Bible and get a notepad, but most importantly, open your heart.
I wanna start a new series for three or four sessions anyway, I believe, around God's provision in our lives. We're living in an exciting time. We're living through a season of tremendous change and realignment, and the outcomes aren't exactly clear yet, but I know God is moving in the midst of this in some very unprecedented ways. But the things that we have counted upon to bring stability in our lives and structure to our lives that we've imagined secured our future, those things are crumbling before our very eyes. We don't have to talk about that in any great detail tonight. You know it. You know it intuitively if you don't know it in the other way. And that doesn't frighten me because I trust the Lord to take us through. We would not be the first nation to have fallen, to have lost its place or to forfeit its stature, but God watches over his people.
And I wanna do my best to hand you some tools to help you understand how to flourish in the midst of chaos. And we're really gonna look at some promises of God and try to understand them. Now, I wanna start with the part of the passage for our reading today, we're working through the Book of Deuteronomy, and one of the chapters I read seemed to be just so vibrant to me, I wanted to take a moment with you as kind of the introduction to this little series. Moses, in the Book of Deuteronomy, is busily preparing the people for their entrance into the promised land. They have a history of being slaves. They have no history of autonomy, of independence, of centralized government, of self-determination, none of that. And now they're this free people. They've plundered Egypt and Moses has been given the assignment of preparing them to occupy their inheritance. Not an easy task.
And in Deuteronomy chapter 6, the entire chapter is instructions for this. And as I read through those chapters again today, I was just captivated by the intensity of the language. It's describing a people who are following the Lord. You have to say that group of people were pretty much all-in. If they didn't follow the Lord, they're gonna starve to death. If they didn't follow the Lord, they had no water. Their only purpose for being together is they were a people following God, a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire. Sound right? So I'm thinkin', if you have that group of people all-in and you were gonna talk to them, you'd just hold hands and sing Kumbaya. It'd be like come on, let's hug this one out, right? We made it through the plagues, we got through the Red Sea, we got through the bitter water at Marah, we got manna every morning, big Mo went up the mountain and came back with the ten, we're golden. Group hug.
And you read Deuteronomy 6 and the language is so intense. It's not what I expected. Then the first verse is "These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land". Commands, decrees, and laws. God has an opinion. He didn't bring you out of slavery to bring you into a promised land to let you do just whatever felt good. And then, I started underlining it in my Bible, and I just clipped some statements and these all come from Deuteronomy 6. You can go back and read it and check. I took these from the New International Version, but, he said, "you are crossing the Jordan to possess".
I'm gonna get you across the Jordan, but you're gonna have to possess the land. It's not gonna fall on you. I delivered you from slavery, and I'll feed you while we make this trip through the wilderness, but when you cross the Jordan River, you gotta take it. "be careful to obey so that it may go well with you". Be careful. Be careful. Suppose I said, "Be careful to obey the Lord". You'd be careful with that. You'd be careful. That's not the attitude we have. "Aw, I'm born again". "No, no, I've been born again a long time. I've read my Bible. I've even done this Bible reading thing. I've been in the baptismal pool. I've volunteered. I've been around church so long, I volunteered for the hoedown. Tell somebody else to be careful".
Folks, these people walked through the Red Sea, and Moses said, "You be careful so that it can go well with you and you could increase greatly". It's a pretty interesting promise. "Just as the Lord, the God of your fathers, promised you". We're going to occupy a promise, he said. Verse 5: "Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, with all of your strength". It's not just rational. It's not just emotional. With everything you have, love with everything within you. Verse 7: "Impress this on your children". I looked at several translations. All of them suggest with great intentionality and purpose and repetition, instruct the children. Verse 12: "Be careful". There's that be careful again. "Be careful that you don't forget the Lord". What do you mean forget the Lord? "Be careful".
Oh, you mean like skippin' church when COVID... oh, I'm sorry, not remind, that's, Verse 13: "Fear the Lord your God, serve him only". Be afraid of God. We've lost the fear of God. I don't want you to cower and dread, but I want you to have a respect for him, a reverence for him, an awe for him. Folks, he's not like us. He made this place. On our best day, we can't heal a gnat's wing. We're certainly not gonna make a mosquito. God made the earth and everything that's in it. He's not like us. You should respect him. And we have this problem, "Well, you know, I know what the Bible says, but I think..." Oh. "Do not follow other gods, the gods of the people around you..."
There's gonna be invitations, there's gonna be offramps. "I'm a jealous God, and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land". He will destroy you, Moses said. You think he was hard on the Egyptians? He will destroy you. Verse 18, "Do what is right and good in the Lord's sight. You may go in and take over the good land that the Lord promised", verse 19, "thrusting out all our enemies before you, as the Lord said". Wow. You gotta go do that, he said, he said. You're gonna have enemies over there. There's not gonna be a welcome parade when you cross the Jordan. After you cross the Jordan, you're gonna confront enemies, adversaries, opponents. Verse 23: "But he brought us out from there to bring us in and to give us the land that he promised". 24: "The Lord commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the Lord our God. And if we are careful to obey..."
That's intense language. That's not like a clap on the back and go, "Have a good time. Enjoy yourself. Let down your hair. Sow some wild oats". That's about as intense as I could imagine. Listen to the words: "Commands. Decrees. Laws. Possess. Be careful. With all your heart. With all your soul. With all your strength. Impress your children. Be careful not to forget. Fear the Lord,. Serve him only. Do not follow other gods. He's a jealous God. He will destroy you. Do what is right and good. Take over the good land. Thrust out all your enemies". "Well, I don't wanna do that. I wanna be tolerant. Wanna be inclusive. I wanna be openminded and expansive". We don't want to offend anybody. The Lord commanded, be careful to obey.
Now, I understand this is the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament. I understand they're getting ready to occupy the promised land. In the Old Testament, the objective for the people of God was a promised land. A piece of terra firma on planet earth that God promised to Abraham and his descendants forever. In the New Testament, there's a slight difference. We're promised a kingdom, but it's not a kingdom for this present age. It's what Jesus said when he was before Pilate. "If it were," he said, "my followers would be fighting". And you wouldn't be smirking. That's the Living Bible. But I would submit to you that in each case, both the Old Testament and the New, it required a conquest.
If you study the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible, they'll talk about this period from the exodus until the people of God occupy the promised land as the conquest. They had to conquer the land. God didn't just deliver it into their hands, anymore than the Egyptians just said, "Oh, we would like to fund your journey across the desert". Well, I would submit to you that the New Testament also requires a conquest, not of a physical territory, but of a spiritual one. Amen is the word you're searching for, but it's okay. I'm ahead of you.
See, here's our reality, and it's a little awkward. We have lived with such stability, so much prosperity and in a culture with a predominant biblical world view for so long that we haven't really had to rely upon God, unless there was some sort of a personal crisis, a health crisis or a family crisis or you know, in those crisis moments we get our faith out and dust it off and talk about believing and standing and praying and spiritual conflict, but we really didn't imagine that is it was necessary for our kids to have school or medicine.
Well, if you haven't noticed, our world is very rapidly changing. And in my opinion, we'll either grow up in our faith and our responses to God, or we will be overwhelmed. The way we knew God a decade ago is not adequate for the season of now. Honestly, the way we knew God 5 years ago is not adequate for the season of now. And one of the unique maladies, problems of religious people is self righteousness. We wanna believe we know all the important stuff Imagine 10 years ago you thought you understood communications perfectly. Maybe you did, but in the intervening years how we communicate has changed dramatically. Well, I would submit to you that knowing the Lord is a living, breathing, vibrant thing.
Deuteronomy 6 gives you a little window into the narrative that's about to happen for the former slaves of Egypt. I wanna give you a New Testament narrative. You know, there's this myth that exists, and I've heard it repeated from this platform from time to time by different guests, not lately, but, you know, I'll hear people say things like "I don't really like to read the Old Testament. It's so harsh. I like to read the New Testament. It's all about love". Yeah. And when I hear that, I think, which New Testament? I'm just gonna give you a narrative, and I didn't bring you all the verses 'cause there's a time limit. But if you've forgotten, I would remind you that our King, the one we call Lord, in the New Testament is falsely accused, he is the object repeatedly and consistently of irrational hatred, and ultimately he's tortured to death.
That's our King. His closest friends and most faithful followers in the midst of that, abandoned him because they rightly recognized the level of imminent personal threat. It's just too dangerous to be identified as his friends. So they deny they know him. This is in the loving New Testament. Now, God, of his own initiation, raises Jesus from the dead, but he only appears to his followers. The enemies of Jesus, as the gospels come to a conclusion, imagine that they have gained a tremendous victory. That's the story on the street. Now, the spirit of God is poured out upon Jesus's friends, as Jesus said he would be. It's in Acts chapter 2. They get a helper, they get an advocate, they get a paraclete in Greek, someone called alongside to help them, none other than the Spirit of God himself. And then they begin to tell their personal story of knowing Jesus. They have a kingdom to establish.
Jesus said you'll be my witnesses I Jerusalem, Judaea, Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth. He said you'll be hated by all people because of me. He said they will kill you and think they're doing the world a favor. We read that and we think, "Oh, that doesn't mean us. So we're gonna have a fight about which color carpet we should put in the Fellowship Hall". They begin to tell their personal story of knowing Jesus, and when they do, there are tremendous responses. Surprising numbers of people accept Jesus as Lord and Messiah. There are incredible miracles. Miracles that match what they saw in Jesus's life and ministry. Enormous crowds begin to gather, and there are growing pains. They outgrow their systems and they have to realign habits, and there's bickering and fussing and quibbling.
Can you imagine? And then there's also jealousy and hatred, and there's arrests, and then there's violence against the believers. And then there are murders, and that's just in Jerusalem. That's in the very earliest time after Jesus went back to heaven. You've read it. Do you remember? It became very difficult to be a Christ follower in Jerusalem. So the persecution results in dispersion. A majority of the believers leave. They leave their homes and their businesses and their routines, and their kids get pulled out of schools and they can't play on their ball teams anymore. And their bunco group got blown up. And they had to go make new friends in new places, and find new ways to support themselves. It was uncomfortable. And they did it anyway.
As they begin to tell the Jesus story, there are those who accept the story and there are miracles and there are healings, and there are deliverance from unclean spirits and demonic influences. And then, quite surprisingly if you're just reading along, there's hatred and accusations and arrests and violence and riots. We get to the end of the Book of Acts, it's the most narrative form of history in the New Testament, and Paul is in Rome after a lengthy three-year journey of arrest and imprisonment. And he's teaching the gospel. By the latter part of the New Testament, by near the end of Paul's life, he's writing letters to the believers in Ephesus and Colossae and Philippi, and he's writing them from a prison cell in Rome. That's our softer, gentler New Testament.
There's no Jesus story without hatred and anger and violence and opposition and riots. They didn't choose the conciliatory path. They weren't passive. No, they weren't angry, violent, belligerent, Paul said, "I was an angry, violent man, but I met Jesus and he changed my heart". But in order for the kingdom of God to be established, they had to overcome the opposition. I've spent my life, most of it, my adult life, in the American church, and I would humbly submit to you, we have not been coached on how to establish the kingdom of God. We've been trained on how to be born again. And we've got to change. We're gonna be held accountable. And now that fabric of culture is unraveling, it's frightening and it's unsettling and we'd rather not talk about it, and couldn't we just do a polite Bible study and whistle a little more loudly and act like we don't notice? We could, but I think we'd be betraying the assignment that we've been entrusted with.
So I brought you two or three verses. These are all New Testament verses. These aren't hardcore Old Testament. Romans chapter 8: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword"? Those aren't theoretical questions. That's the world that they're living in. Hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword? Does that mean God has withdrawn from us? Has he abandoned us? Is that gonna cause us to withdraw, to tone it down, to back up? "No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us". See, we've taken that verse and in our own way we've kind of perverted it into this soft, squishy "We're more than conquerors of them all". We're more than conquerors of our social clubs. We've never really imagined our faith in the context of something that was required of us to overcome the opposition.
"Pastor, pray for me. The place I work, there's not very many believers". Yeah, that's called missions. "Pastor, pray for me. My neighbor is not a believer and they are nasty". Yep. You see, we've learned to escape every one of those points. And "You don't really expect me to bring my biblical world view to work? Or to my holiday table"? Haven't coughed all day. 1 Corinthians 15: "As for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour"? It's not a rhetorical question if you look at it in its context. You know, he's saying you well know those letters that we read from which we glean our promises, that inform us about our hopes with God, are handed to us from people who are facing danger in order to share that message. Romans 16. It's the conclusion of the Book of Romans.
Paul said, "Great Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been imprisoned with me..." Well, there's somethin' to put on your resume. "In prison with pastor". They've been released; greet them. We were locked in lockup together. "They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was". Locked up together and outstanding apostles. 2 Timothy 2: "Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus". It's a completely different orientation. It's a different way to think about our faith. I wanna suggest to you that what is before us is the greatest opportunity for the kingdom of God of our lifetime, but that it's probably not going to look like the season that we have known in the preceding years.
I suspect that the resistance and the opposition will be more bold and brazen and determined; that there will be different challenges to negotiate and to navigate; that the dividing lines between faith and not will be a bit more clear. And it's gonna take more courage from us to say "I'm a Christ follower," 'cause the cost will become more apparent. I wanna encourage you as Moses encouraged the crew in Deuteronomy 6, be careful. Be careful. Be careful that you don't compromise. Be careful that you don't betray your faith. Be careful that you don't sell out. Be careful. Teach the children. Teach them to be different from the world. Impress upon them what it means to be godly. Don't abandon them. Don't teach them to be better at the worldly system. Teach them to be godly. Let them see what it means to be different. Not weird different. You're weird enough, you don't have to pretend to be weird.
Hey, conflict in our lives and in our world doesn't mean God has abandoned us. It may mean he's asked us to stand in a difficult place and hold up his truth, and be a light in the darkness. I'd like to pray for you:
Father, I pray you'll give us the courage to stand and the boldness to be assertive with the truth. May we stand for your truth and yet do it in a way that reflects your love and your mercy to our generation. In Jesus's name, amen.